Social distancing amid the COVID-19 pandemic is creating some elevated stress and anxiety for many, even in menial chores like grocery shopping. In one jarring hour, I experience thoughts of hyperawareness in the new COVID reality and turn to kindness to cope.

My story starts at 8am on a Saturday amid the COVID-19 pandemic in Vancouver. There’s about a cupful of milk left in the fridge at home. Crap! We need to go out shopping, which I have grown to loathe. Maybe we ought to stock up on some groceries now when fewer people are in the store. Grocery shopping at this hour should be a cinch, or so I think.

My partner and I leave the apartment while I tuck away my blue latex gloves and a small bottle of hand sanitizer in my sweater pocket. We uncomfortably ride the elevator down twenty-three floors, wondering how many people have been in here and who has touched what. After getting rid of recyclables and garbage in the basement, we attempt to lather up with hand sanitizer from the dispenser that the building provides, but it’s empty.

We walk in a single file instead of side-by-side uphill — just about the only outdoor cardio activity I’ve done in the last two weeks. A masked lady says good morning while keeping her distance. My partner says, good morning back. I give the nod and keep on walking, taking deep breaths as the cold breeze sweeps behind my back. Should I have worn a mask outside today? I pull my hoodie over my head as an automatic response.

Is it currently in stock?
In-stock list of essential items at the store entrance — updated daily

Everyone takes turns to shop

Standing about two arm’s length apart, people wait in line to enter the store while a store clerk stands at the top of the line by the door, letting one person in as one person leaves. No one seems to be wearing a facial mask, but a young lady has her scarf wrapped around her face and neck.

We split up the shopping list as we stand in line, checking out the “list of essential items” at the start of the line. On my way in, I hesitate to grab a shopping basket, but I do anyway. The store has milk and, surprisingly, toilet paper. Still no hand sanitizers and thermometers. I grab a bottle of honey from the top shelf, but my partner says we have more than enough honey at home. I place it back. How many people have done the same thing with their bare hands?

Meanwhile, an elderly lady with unkempt hair and a blank stare on her face stands motionless a few feet away from me, waiting for me to leave the aisle. It creeps me out and, yet, there’s something very human when people go shopping in their pajamas!

No shopping list equals impulse buying and tension

The lineup of physical distancing customers to the cash register snakes through the dairy aisle. My partner hints we should get some yogurt as he keeps our place in the queue. I pick up a couple of jars. Then he suggests what’s for dinner tonight and points at the cold meats section.

I go over and pick up a pack of chicken breast and, stopping halfway as I step back, a bundle of fresh sausages — just as well since we’re already here. One basket turns quickly into two basketfuls of groceries, and it feels like we’re hoarding.

At the checkout, the lady at the cash register politely asks us to stay farther away from her. There’s no plexiglass barrier on her till. We take two steps back, forming a triangle with the clerk. Awkward!

The clerk places three plastic bags on the table. As my partner bags our groceries, I tap my credit card on the card reader, but it won’t read it. I slide it in the slot and punch in my PIN code. Dang it, I touched the keypad! My partner snaps at me to put the receipt away as I frantically stuff it in one of the bags. He just wants to get home as much as I do.

Unpacking grocery bags on the floor
Unpacking grocery bags on the floor, not on the kitchen counter

Breathing and counting our blessings

Back in the bubble of our own home, we wash our hands long enough to play the Happy Birthday song twice in our heads while taking a few big, deep breaths. My partner leaves the grocery bags on the floor — not on the kitchen counter, which is probably good practice in any case. He puts away the groceries, wiping each item clean with bleach solution.

It dawns on us how stressful an hour of shopping for groceries has become and lament at the irritation we experience with one another. We take control of our thoughts and make a promise to better support each other when we go grocery shopping again. Not only are we buying groceries after all, but we’re also making a conscious effort to be mindful of protecting ourselves and others from COVID-19.

My partner and I can do better by shopping for our groceries online with contactless delivery. We can plan for our weekly meal kit delivery service to minimize the time we spend shopping at stores.

We remind ourselves to focus more on being patient with one another and not on the extraordinary burden of anxiety amid quarantine and social isolation. Everyone is experiencing COVID-19 anxiety along with us — we’re afraid we may unknowingly catch it or spread it. An act of kindness and patience to ourselves and others can get us through it.

What are you worrying about right now amid the COVID-19 outbreak? Share your thoughts in the comments section below.

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